Bayonets for Hire - Mercenaries at War, 1550-1789, William Urban

Bayonets for Hire - Mercenaries at War, 1550-1789, William Urban

Although the general focus is on the role of the mercenary, large parts of the book read more like a general military history of the period. For much of this period large contingents in just about every army could be classified as mercenaries, fighting for pay for countries other than their own. The same was true at the higher ranks, where a significant number of senior officers made their careers serving foreign rules. Perhaps the best example of this was Prince Eugene of Savoy, a French nobleman who failed to find employment at home and instead became famous serving in the Austrian army.  

One of the problems faced by Urban is that we know very little about what motivated the individual mercenaries, at least at the lower ranks. There are some exceptions, in particular the many bands of exiles found across Europe in this period (including the 'Wild Geese', Catholic exiles from Scotland and Ireland, and the many religious exiles produced by the French Wars of Religion and the Thirty Years War). Elsewhere this isn't the easiest of topics to examine, and as a result the main focus is on  the conflicts themselves – what the mercenaries did, rather than why. Given that a sizeable part of just about every army in this period was made up of paid troops, at least in the first part of the period, that explains the more general history feel.

I would have liked a clearer definition of what Urban means by a mercenary, and more analysis of how much of the armies he studies were made up of mercenaries and how that changed over time, but other than that this is an excellent study of this period of military history, providing some interesting material on the less familiar conflicts in Eastern Europe, as well as on the nature of the armies and commanders of the period.

1 - Mercenaries Medieval to Modern
2 - The Periphery of Europe - Russia Expands West
3 - The Periphery of Europe - Russia Expands South
4 - The Celtic Periphery of Europe - The Wild Geese
5 - Disaster in the Heart of Europe - The Thirty Years War
6 - Europe under Attack - The Siege of Vienna
7 - Europe on the Offensive - The Turkish Wars
8 - The First Parallel Universe - The Great Northern War
9 - The Second Parallel Universe - The War of the Spanish Succession
11 - The Old Regimes' Last Hope - The Seven Years War
12 - Mercenaries in Literature
13 - Summary

Author: William Urban
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 304
Publisher: Frontline
Year: 2016 edition of 2007 original

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